Updated: Dec 18, 2020
A form of this dish has been prepared nearly everywhere on this Earth from nearby waters of every kind by folk with a willingness to eat and a hot fire! Of those locales and indigenous peoples, middens of shell, soot, implements and the like have been identified and recovered, reminding the People and informing others that the origins of this ancient delicacy are prehistoric and consumed millenia before the enrichment of domesticated animal byproducts like ultrafiltered milk, cream and butter.
From bowl of sustenance to the refinements and techniques in this recipe, as cook, I've literally manned the "piano" orchestrating an ethereal song of this dish with occasional success for the better part of my life. Results are usually strong though the change with each component can lilt the tune from symphonic to more of a rustic shanty although I do love a good shanty! Still, I'll joyfully suffer those spoils and look to the next opportunity to try it all over again. This chowder, like so many dishes that we love, can be alluring to perfect while satisfying nonetheless no matter the outcome.
Select any shellfish or fish from your local waters that are prime and pristine - that is fresh, young and from well known harvest sites. Be certain to add the proteins sequentially to the pan and cook until each are barely cooked through (I like the fish just underdone and the shellfish coasting up to doneness) so as not to compromise texture; they will be dry if overcooked. The crab needs only to be heated rather than cooked because all of the cooking has been done in advance. Add the crab just moments before removing the pan from a simmer and steep over indirect flame to heat. Adding the herbs just prior to dishing will give the chowder a distinctly fresh flavor. A simple crusty bread or crisp salad will provide all that is needed for a light meal.
Shellfish and Fish Chowder
Serves four as a light meal or six as a starter
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 - 18 minutes
Equipment: Cutting board, knife, 2 qt heavy pan with a lid,
1 leek, white part only, sliced (substitute ramps, spring onions or any tender and young wild onion in your region for the leek)
To prepare leeks for cooking: Trim the root end of the leek. Remove the tops to within an inch of the white base and save the tops for another preparation. Split the leek lengthwise and place in several changes of cold water to remove sand or mud.
1 tablespoon light, neutral oil
1 rasher smoked bacon, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces (optional)
6 cups chicken broth or substitute all water
1 cups water
1/2 small onion, peeled and diced (about 1/2 cup)
8-10 small new potatoes, cut into 6 wedges each
12 ounces sea scallops, side muscle or foot removed (or other shellfish from your region)
1 cooked Dungeness crab , shelled and picked (any crab works for this dish)
or substitute 8 oz fresh crab meat, picked to remove any loose shell
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves (dill, licorice fern root, or your favorite herb)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced ( if using wild onions above, use the tender tops, avoid the woody stems)
1 1/2 cups whipping cream (substitute ultrafiltered milk, ½ & ½, or 1 cup evaporated milk,
sea salt (any salt works) and freshly ground pepper to taste
Prepare the leek for cooking.
Place a heavy pan large enough to hold the contents over medium high heat. Add the oil and the bacon and cook until the bacon is cooked to your liking. Pour off most or all of the oil. Add the leek, stock, water, onions and potatoes. Bring the liquid to a boil then turn down to a very low simmer. Cook the potatoes until they are fork tender (consider that they will have a few more minutes of cooking with the remaining ingredients). Add the scallops and cook for a few minutes. Add the cream, crab meat and herbs. Taste for seasoning. (The store-bought chicken stock, bacon and crab will give over enough salt to flavor the chowder, if not, add salt and pepper to taste). Heat the crab just through. Serve in warm soup bowls or cups along with your favorite bread or crackers.
Try substituting oysters and fresh shrimp or clams and mussels for an entirely different chowder. Fresh salmon, lingcod or rockfish produce a distinct variation. Fresh corn, when in season, is a wonderful compliment to the seafood. Fresh chervil, fennel, thyme or your regional favorite herb are suitable substitutions.